With all the hoopla surrounding the introduction of the 1976 Volare (it was Motor Trend Car of the Year), for the first time it was easy to forget there still was a 1976 Plymouth Duster 360.
The 1976 Silver Duster featured a canopy vinyl
roof and distinctive lower-body striping.
Pared to its essence in its final year, the Plymouth Duster was offered with a choice of 225-cubic inch six or 318-cubic inch V-8 power. The 360-cube engine was still available (only with TorqueFlite, and not at all in California), but the Duster 360 was dropped; ditto the Duster Custom.
Replacing the Gold Duster was the one-time-only Silver Duster package. The usual accoutrements -- canopy vinyl roof, etc. -- were set off by distinctive red-and-black stripes that traced the lower bodyside character lines, then swept up and crossed between the taillamps. Colorful Boca Raton cloth and vinyl spiced the interior.
Chrysler engineers contrived, in skunk-works fashion, to get every bit of mileage possible out of the Slant Six. The result was the "Feather Duster," a $51 option package.
Fitted with lightweight aluminum components including hood and decklid inner panels, bumper reinforcements, and intake manifold, the Feather Duster (identified by name on the front fenders) came with a specially-tuned 225 Slant Six with a single-throat carb.
An economy-minded 2.94:1 rear axle ratio was specified, and buyers could also opt for a manual overdrive transmission with aluminum case for an additional weight reduction. With the overdrive transmission, the total weight savings was 187 pounds. Of course, to realize the promised greater fuel economy, the list of available options was severely restricted.
In its final year, the Plymouth Duster 360 tempted just 34,681 buyers, nearly 6,000 fewer than went for the Valiant sedan. Nevertheless, in its seven-year run, more than 1.3 million Plymouth Dusters were assembled, a truly astounding accomplishment. And it was significant for more than just its sales potential, according to Weiss.
"With the Duster, Chrysler learned a lot about line simplification, reducing part numbers, using less manpower, etc. It was our progenitor of 'lean manufacturing.' And by building essentially the same car year after year, manufacturing learned how to build car quality and at the same time wring out the cost," he says.
Although much of the justification for the Duster's creation was performance-based, the majority came with sixes as buyers embraced the coupe's singular combination of style and practicality.
Actually, the Duster was really about fun and freedom, hip and cool. It fit into a time when cars bore unorthodox names like Road Runner, Judge, Boss, and Eliminator; when cars sprouted wings and spoilers, wild colors, and outrageous graphics; when they boasted "Mod Tops" and "Tuff" wheels, shaker hoods, and "beep-beep" horns.
After 1976, the Duster name was periodically, uh, "dusted off" and used to promote some sales package, as on the 1979-1980 Volare Duster Sunrise and, during the last few years of Sundance production.
Are Dusters collectible? Well, Chrysler thinks so. It recently purchased a Duster 340 to add to its collection of significant vehicles housed in the Chrysler Historical Museum being created on the corporation's Auburn Hills campus.
For models, prices, and production numbers for the 1970-1976 Plymouth Duster, continue on to the next page.
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